Harassment Claims at EU Investment Bank Spark Call for Probe

A European Union lawmaker said there should be an investigation into working conditions at the European Investment Bank following allegations of harassment.

The request came in a phone interview with Tilly Metz, a member of the European Parliament from Luxembourg, where the EIB is located, a day after Bloomberg News reported on claims of inappropriate conduct at the institution.

The revelations “raise a lot of questions” about accountability, Metz said. The European Union assembly needs to look into the “governance structure and culture in order to stop the omertà,” or code of silence, she said.

Three other members of the EU parliament voiced concerns about the findings in Bloomberg’s April 19 story, which drew on interviews with more than two dozen current and former employees, court filings and internal documents to paint a picture of an institution where allegations of sexual harassment, bullying and discrimination largely go unpunished.

The parliament “has to deal with these very specific accusations,” said Sven Giegold, a German lawmaker who sits on the committee on economic and monetary affairs. “I am shaken by this. From the moment such accusations get out in the open, the parliament has a duty to handle them.”

Irene Tinagli, an Italian member of the EU parliament who chairs the committee, said in an interview that the allegations of harassment were of “extreme relevance” and would be discussed at a committee meeting scheduled for later this week.

An EIB spokesman said the bank “engages with the European Parliament on a regular basis on every aspect of its activities.”

The employees Bloomberg interviewed for the April 19 story, about half of whom still work at the bank, said they had either witnessed or been victims of harassment, including what they considered psychological abuse.

Some said they had experienced inappropriate comments and unsolicited sexual advances. Most asked not to be identified for fear of retribution. They said that women, who make up about half of the 3,500 staff, sometimes lost out on promotions to less qualified male colleagues or found their careers derailed after having children. Ten said working at the bank had driven them to consider taking their own lives.

“I am outraged to hear about those appalling findings,” Engin Eroglu, a German EU parliamentarian, said in an email on Wednesday. “We need a public debate on that topic” and should hold those responsible accountable for their actions, he added.

A suicide at the bank’s headquarters in December -- seven years after a similar death on campus -- sparked concern among staff representatives about the risk of more deaths, Bloomberg reported. In a 17-page response to questions ahead of Monday’s article, the bank said there was no evidence linking either death to work-related issues.

The working conditions and general atmosphere at the EIB show “that we need to have a general investigation into the rights of employees working in EU institutions,” said Metz, the EU lawmaker from Luxembourg.

EU parliamentarians can agree to set up committees to investigate specific issues, which can invite witnesses and request documents. In the past, committees have been established to look into revelations in the Panama papers and the car emissions cheating scandal.

This isn’t the first time the EIB has faced criticism from EU lawmakers. Last year they quizzed bank representatives about alleged failings in its anti-money-laundering procedures, following an internal audit that found shortcomings.

©2021 Bloomberg L.P.

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